Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s abrupt announcement that they want to withdraw from frontline royal duties has sparked speculation about whether she may have been the target of racism.
The couple’s decision to step back as senior royals and seek financial independence from the monarchy follows months of harsh coverage of Meghan by some British media outlets.
The Duchess of Sussex, as she is formally known by her royal title, is of mixed race, with a white father and African-American mother.
When Prince Harry, sixth in line to the throne, began dating the “Suits” actress — daughter of a white father and African American mother — the media called it a sign that Britain had entered a “post-racial” era in which skin color and background no longer mattered, even to the royal family.
Almost as soon as her relationship with Harry became public in 2016, some newspapers were accused of peddling offensive racial stereotypes about Meghan.
I think we live in a great country, a great society, full of opportunity, where people of any background can get on in life
The Daily Mail headlined its “exclusive” announcing their romance as “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton”, referring to the Los Angeles neighbourhood infamous for crime and poverty.
Meghan Markle grew up in nearby central LA and was educated at private schools. Meanwhile Rachel Johnson, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s sister, described her as having “rich and exotic DNA”.
In response Harry issued an unprecedented statement denouncing “the racial undertones of comment pieces” and “the sexism and racism of social media trolls” and online commentators.
But that failed to stop further incidents deemed racially insensitive or worse.
“We can see it with Meghan Markle and the way that she’s been treated in the media, we know that this is a reality of the 21st century, still. After 400 years of racism you can’t just overturn it overnight”, said U.K. Labour Party lawmaker Clive Lewis.
The couple’s departure from official duties of the Royal family has uncovered a massive racist sentiment in the British populace.
The UK: Unprecedented Racism, Unwarranted and Extreme Criticism and Disgusting Journalism, toward Mehgan Markle.
Mehgan Markle: We are leaving the UK and vacating our titles as senior members of the royal family.
Also the UK: Awww man why?
— Knuschit (@Knuschit) January 9, 2020
In 2017 the Daily Mail dug up Meghan’s family tree, branding her “upwardly mobile!” “How in 150 years, Meghan Markle’s family went from cotton slaves to royalty,” screamed its headline.
After the birth of Harry and Meghan’s son, Archie, last May, BBC sports presenter and commentator Danny Baker shared an image of a couple holding hands with a chimpanzee dressed in clothes.
It was captioned: “Royal Baby leaves hospital”.
Baker later claimed it was a “stupid gag” but was promptly sacked by the national broadcaster for a “serious error of judgement”.
Controversy has even raged over the actions of those within the Windsor family.
Read more: Prince Harry evoked history of rebel royals
Princess Michael of Kent, who is married to Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin, was forced to apologise after wearing a blackamoor brooch to a Buckingham Palace lunch attended by Meghan in 2017.
Critics argue the style of jewellery is racially offensive because it fetishises images of slavery.
A stick to beat her with
Some deny racism has played a part in Meghan’s departure, which has inevitably been dubbed “Megxit” after Britain’s controversial and tortuous Brexit process to leave the European Union.
Interior minister Priti Patel said she had not seen that “through any debates or commentary”.
“I think we live in a great country, a great society, full of opportunity, where people of any background can get on in life,” she told the BBC.
Who can blame Meghan Markle for not wanting to be a part of the royal family after the racism she’s faced?
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) January 14, 2020
Others disagree, arguing British newspapers propagate antiquated views of race and class.
“The press use Meghan’s race as a stick to beat her with sadly,” said etiquette expert William Hanson last week.
“Just as they use Catherine’s class as a stick to beat her,” he added, referring to Prince William’s wife, who hails from a middle-class family.
— cansu (@cnshnts) January 14, 2020
Defenders of Meghan have also pointed to the unfair coverage she has endured in comparison to other royals.
Branded “duchess difficult” and “capricious” by the British press, Meghan has been repeatedly criticised for doing things other royals have done without generating any negative headlines.
They include guest-editing a magazine, cradling her baby bump when pregnant and eating avocados.
“How Meghan’s favourite avocado snack… is fuelling human rights abuses, drought and murder,” thundered the Daily Mail last year.
Newspapers criticised for their coverage appear unwilling to admit any wrongdoing, with best-selling tabloid The Sun claiming Tuesday there was “no evidence of press bigotry”.
“First they said Brexit was caused by racism. Now they’re saying Megxit was caused by racism,” wrote columnist Tom Slater.
He added “they” referred to “the liberal-Left commentariat… who hate Brexit, hate ordinary people and have, for some reason, grown to love our departing royals, Prince Harry and Meghan”.
In contrast, Nesrine Malik in the centre-left Guardian newspaper, called the racism claim and counter-claim “Britain’s racism pantomime” and argued it hid broader issues.
“There will be no time to discuss the laziness, complicity and complacency of a media class that has turned racism into a spectator sport,” she lamented.
“No time to talk about the rightwards creep of our political culture under successive Tory governments that have consistently turned up the dial on nativism.”.